Thursday, August 15, 2013

making time to grieve

Abby's (Manx Mnews) recent decline and passing has stirred up some grieving pain from the passing of my beloved Max, back in May of 2009. My grieving continues and will forever continue as Max was the most amazing cat ever and my first.

The pain of losing Max was intense. Anticipating such pain, I started therapy shortly after learning about his terminal diagnosis (CRF) to assist me with grieving. It was helpful but as the weeks went by after his death I realized I was going to need something more powerful. I decided to take some time for myself and travel to a sacred place to give my heart time to heal.

In late August of 2009, I was off to Isle Royale National Park, which technically belongs to Michigan, USA but is much closer to Ontario, Canada. It's a small island in Lake Superior, where there are no roads, just trails for hiking or backpacking. It's my paradise, the place my soul finds rest.

I have a long history with this place. I first learned about this island park in childhood when I was really into wolves. I would read everything I could find about the island's captive wolf population, all the while dreaming of visiting someday. One day I shared this dream with my parents in hopes that we might go there for our annual family summer vacation, but it was ruled out for being too far. Imagine my surprise when months later I learned my dream was going to come true, we would be going to Isle Royale!

My parents fell in love with the place too and a few summers after our initial visit, the whole family embarked on a backpacking adventure across the middle of the island, 40 miles (64.4 km). Flash forward many years and in the summer after my first year of college, I took a seasonal job working in the park. When I accepted that job, little did I know how it would forever change my world. That summer, I met Laura, the love of my life and I encountered God in a very real way. It was an enchanted summer filled with incredible experiences.

After Max's death, while my heart was struggling to carry the weight of the loss, I could not think of a more prefect place to grieve than Isle Royale. So, off I went, to backpack across the northern most edge of the island (trail highlighted in purple on the map below) with the goal of letting the sacred space heal my deep heart-wound.

click on map to see it big

Here are a few images from the journey:

Moskey Basin

Lunch break at Lake Richie

Lovely forest

McCargoe Cove

fresh wolf tracks!

Camp site at Little Todd Harbor near the big lake

I couldn't decide which of these next three sunset pictures I liked the most, so I'll share them all and you can decide for yourself. The sunset is over Lake Superior, the land in the far off distance is Canada.

View of Canada from ridge trail

Resting at North Lake Desor

Sunset over Lake Desor

A quiet evening

Back on the ridge trail

Ripe thimbleberry, so very tasty!

Trail through the bog
 After my backpacking trip, Laura met me on the island for some hanging out.

Rock Harbor marina (where I worked that summer in college)

Sunset over marina with MV Ranger III moored on right

Tobin Harbor

Canoeing in Tobin Harbor with Laura
Way back in the day, my early dates with Laura involved canoeing around Tobin Harbor. Often we would drift out in the harbor late at night under the glow of the Northern Lights (aurora borealis), as they danced across the sky all while listening to the distant loons calling out. The meteor showers and other natural wonders were pretty impressive too.

This trip back to my paradise did exactly what I was hoping it would do. Many tears were shed and joyous moments with Max were recalled as the restorative powers of the Island worked their healing ways. Years later, I can still feel the pain of Max's absence but the real intense pain that had started to fuel depression and despair was scattered across the many miles of trail. After this experience, my grieving pain has shifted from an intense, unregulated, difficult to contain pain to more containable pain. There are still times when the pain swells, but overall the weight of the loss is bearable and I'm able to self-regulate.

I'm convinced that grieving is an active process that must remain active lest it stagnant and become depression. I believe it's a process that forever continues, it's very presence is a testament to the powerful bond that exists. So long as I love Max, which will be forever, I will grieve his absence. I am so incredibly thankful to have a place like Isle Royale.


  1. Yes, I've relived all my grief over Annie through this too.

    But there is healing and a connection to God/Universe/Spirit to be found in Nature that simply cannot be found elsewhere, IMO.

    I'm glad you had that, after Max's passing.

  2. We have a special place we go to on our property.It seems to connect us with the cats we have lost.I don't think we ever stop grieving...just the effect it has changes with the passing of time. Thank you for sharing this special place with us.
    Jane x

  3. Your writing is something I have intensely enjoyed. You have a way of expressing what many of us feel in our hearts. I know I am finding that I must forge a new pathway for my loss and grief of my dearly beloved Abby. I know the loss of her will always be a soft deep painful spot for me and there is nothing that can change that. No amount of passage of time will stop it but it won't be as intense as it is right now. I believe you are right when you say grieving is an active process, and one that must be expressed or else it will morph into something that is destructive. As much as I want to be reunited with Abby, I know that it is not my time to be with her and that she is going to lead me forward into something I can't even begin to understand right now. Thank you again for your kind words of compassionate and just your understanding. It is so healing and helpful to me... and I know my Abby girl would deeply appreciate it too.


  4. I am happy that you had this little bit of paradise, too, to help you heal. It is so beautiful there. Losing our pets change us and it is a heaviness that we carry for the rest of our lives. It is so that cannot be shared. I still think often of my cats from long ago. I have them all resting on our property and can visit them when I need to. Only I will appreciate what the spot means to me and the memories that it gives me. I understand fully how everytime you hear of one passing it brings back such vivid memories. Sending a big hug your way, Deb

  5. The only thing in the end for me when it comes to grieving the loss of one of my animals is knowing that one day we will again be together. You have a lovely blog.

  6. What a beautiful, quiet place. It's so hard when we have to say farewell to our special, beloved pet. It's nice you have such a beautiful place to retreat to when you need to reflect.

  7. You were so wise to get counseling to help with your grief of losing Max. I've been having a very tough time mourning Lucy. What a blessing that you have this beautiful place to go to. These pictures are so beautiful!

  8. Non cat lovers will never understand us cat lovers. I fully understand how you feel, I still grieve for my 2 black boys from long ago and more recently my wonderful Kitty who died in 2009. I still can't look at her picture without getting wet eyes.
    Looks like a wonderful hike you had.

  9. What a deja vu moment this post burned into my memory bank! I've only been to Isle Royal once (I'm native Michigander) and that was in 1973. We packbacked both ways and I remember being at each of the sites you displayed. At that time all the drinking water obtained on the island had to be boiled. We did that at every campsite for the next day--turned out to be significant family moments. Cats do definitely leave pawprints on our hearts--I lost my Siamese Tabitha in '83 & the sharp pain of loss still floats close to the surface. I love the transparency of you writing. Thank you.

  10. I deeply enjoyed this blog as I do ALL of your blogs including the TNR one. I too grieve my Admiral and Robin and Abby's loss reactivated my deep pain at losing those girls who are and were preciously dear to me. Katie is the same. You think you won't survive the pain but somehow, day by day you do.

    I had no where physical to go but I do have my faith and life in the Lord so that was my very present help in trouble.

  11. I just lost my beloved cat a couple of weeks ago, so I know about the pain you felt with your beautiful Max. At least, it embarked you on an adventure.

  12. Abby has brought our family to thinking of our Angels also and how much they brought into our lives.
    Thanks for sharing as this allowed us time to think as we visited this magnificent healing place along with you.
    Timmy and Dad

  13. Death is hardest on those left behind but the pain and sorrow we feel can also remind us of how truly special that loved one was to our lives.

    I'm so thankful to see that you have found someplace that brings solace to your soul. Being from Canada (Toronto), I am touched that part of your journey takes you closer to us here in the North.

  14. WOW, what a beautiful post. Lots of feelings expressed. Grief, sadness, love. Very beautiful.
    If I ever make t to Michigan, I will have to visit your island. It looks like a place I would love.

  15. I just finished reading Abby's story - I am new to her blog today and have been reduced to a sobbing mess. It's stirred up so much in me too - 3 times I have been down such a similar road and it's unbelievable how raw it still can be, years later.
    You're very close to my home in this pics - I live in Ontario. Beautiful country side.


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